My quest for hidden gems: Jazzpunk

quest

I sometimes buy game bundles that come with a bunch of codes for games I never even looked at before… or I can’t resist that sweet tempting “mystery game for 0.20 €” offer. Either way, these games are often not even looked at once I have them (well, more so for the bundled games than the one I actually did buy even if I didn’t know what game it will be). I figured I should devote this column here to these games. On the one hand, it makes me actually look at the game and on the other hand, sometimes I buy bundled games because I want to get game A and then I end up ignoring it because one of the other games in the bundle turns out to be much more fun!

I have a bunch of games that qualify for this column and wasn’t sure which one to pick. Then I saw something that looked… weird… but the name sounded rather bland, actually. So this is what I chose: Jazzpunk by Necrophone Games. I bought it as part of a bundle with Overlord.

Let’s take a look at the game: The introduction video sequence is very… colourful, at least. But it doesn’t tell me what this game is about. I actually only read this one sentence before jumping into the game:

“Jazzpunk is a comedy adventure set in an alternate reality Cold War World, plagued with corporate espionage, CyberCrime, and sentient martinis.”

I decided not to read too much about each game before playing it. Without much prior information, I figured I would experience the game in a much less biased way. I made one mistake here, though: I should at least check whether a game is in first person view or not, because it does give me nausea. Jazzpunk’s graphics are very basic, and putting mouse sensitivity on very low lets me play this game for a bit longer than other games before I need to take a break. But the next games I will look at will not be in first person view. It’s just not fun to play and write about a game that makes you feel sick, right? But something still made me want to give it a try, at least.

In the opening scenes, I see that I apparently flew in (to where, I don’t know… but there are Asian symbols, I think…) in a man-shaped suitcase. Very subtle, right? And then I am… somewhere… and get my first mission from a guy who claims to go to his wine cellar after briefing me but actually just lay down to sleep on the floor behind his desk. I have to take some kind of pill for the first mission to start. No idea what that part is about, really. I assume I would find out later on in the game.

jazzpunk intro

Now the bad part is that the voices are all kind of hard to understand and there is no option for “real” subtitles. In most cases, there is a short line repeating what the characters said in a short sentence. But still, a lot gets lost unless you have the sound up and understand them.

Bookahnerk was watching me play and remarked that it seems to be similar to the Stanley Parable. I guess that’s right as I still don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. My task was to infiltrate a building, but that’s the only pointer I got. It’s not like Stanley Parable in that a speaker narrates what I’m doing. Instead, in Jazzpunk I can actually interact with objects and after using a copy-machine for taking pictures of my character’s naked butt, I used a picture on the wall (with a face, not a butt) to fool a camera-activated door to open for me. So it is a puzzle adventure game, but the atmosphere reminds me of Stanley Parable. Jazzpunk tries to stay light-hearted with silly jokes, though. One more example: The room where I took butt-pictures also has two microscopes. One let me play asteroids. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but it was fun! Too bad it was just one level.

I played through the first mission now after looking for a walkthrough online. I admit, I suck at puzzle games, but I still like playing them once in a while. My usual method is to try to figure out how to solve it on my own first and when I get stuck, I look at a walkthrough. My main motivation is not to solve everything on my own, but to get some entertainment value out of it which means that the storyline also has to be good. Fortunately, this seems to be the case here. Of course, having done only the first mission (with help), it’s a bit early to say the story is fantastic or even whether the story will still be good later on. But at least, there seems to be an overarching story behind me doing these missions.

The downside of this game is that even though the graphics are simple, I cannot play the game for longer than 10 minutes at a time. I wish I could, though! It’s silly and seems to be done really well. The interface is confusing at times, though. It says to hit X to cycle through my inventory, but when I picked up a second item, the first item was not in my inventory anymore. Instead, I later found a cereal box that I had already picked up and emptied on the table again just as if I had never even touched it.

Since I cannot really delve into the game longer, I’m looking at the Steam reviews: The game recently got 99 % positive reviews. The overall percentage of positive reviews is at 90 %. So, if you like puzzle games and weird silly stories, this seems to be a great choice! But only if you can play with first person view. For me this one simple thing means that it is not a gem and I will uninstall it again.

Insights into indie game development

I bought “Gremlins Inc.” in early access and only barely noticed its official launch. Even if I hadn’t noticed it, though, the amount of search hits for “Gremlins Inc. review” would have likely tipped me off. :p I did write a “first impressions” piece and for several days, this blog post was getting quite a lot more hits than usual.

But even if you don’t like this game (digital board games aren’t for everyone), if you’re interested in getting a glimpse behind the scenes of indie game development, this company’s posts are quite interesting! So Gremlins Inc. is made by Charlie Oscar, an indie developer located in Vilnius, Lithuania. What has impressed me a lot so far, other than the game itself (or I wouldn’t have bothered linking to it, obviously :p), is the amount of “behind the scenes” information they have given us.

Gremlins Inc.

For one, I thought it was cute – and understandable, but mostly cute – how they celebrated every milestone in copies sold. In fact, I had seen one of those posts right when I was wondering whether to get the game or not. It made the company look honest and sincere with their customers. It is also refreshing to see that they celebrated those “tiny” milestones when other big companies boast about their “1 million copies sold”. Yes, of course, I would wish for them to sell a lot of copies! Still, there are small companies out there and they are happy about every single sale they make.

A few days ago, I saw them tweet about their game’s localization efforts and found this a very interesting read! Not only for me as their customer, but maybe also for others who are interested in making games and for whom such insights are valuable pieces of information. It wasn’t very surprising to see them come to the conclusion that German and French localizations are a must have, basically. I am German, I know how bad the English of lots of other Germans is. :p But the sheer amount of languages they offer their game in is astonishing and their thoughts and the impact those localizations had is fascinating. They also describe the process of how they worked with translators in different regions.

Today, they added another post about sales and early access. I am not a game designer, but I still found it interesting to get a glimpse into that part of gaming. In short, they come to the conclusion – which fits to what others have already said apparently – that Steam’s Early Access does not fund a game, but it at least gives them some additional money they wouldn’t have otherwise and it lets them create a community already. From my point of view, I would agree. A lot of people are careful about Early Access games – or Kickstarter and the like – because you just don’t have a guarantee that the game will be finished any time soon or ever. I have bought several games in early access now, but I always asked myself first: “Will I have fun playing the game in its current state?” – Only if the answer is “yes”, I buy the game. And I know lots of other people just don’t enjoy a game that still changes or that comes with lots of bugs etc. So those very likely won’t buy such a game.

But back to this post: They also share some insight into costs related to the manpower, rent for the office etc. and that somebody needs to actually run the business or hire and work with lawyers on top of everybody trying to make the game.

So far, they have not turned a profit on the game, but it only released one month ago (on March 11, so yes, exactly one month ago) and I hope they will make quite a few more sales. I know I will buy the original soundtrack when it comes out, because I just love game soundtracks. Not sure about DLCs, though. I am much more picky when it comes to DLCs and their “worth” (thinking of the Tropico ones mostly here). But we’ll see… maybe, if they’re good.

The future of The Repopulation

Rather exciting news appeared while I was sleeping: The Repopulation will come back*! The developers (Above and Beyond Technologies) decided to leave the Hero Engine behind and port the game to the Unreal Engine.

Screenshot of the scenery in the new tutorial of The Repopulation

“This is not a decision that we have taken lightly. While many of our assets will convert over easily to Unreal Engine, the game’s code will need to be rewritten from scratch.”

Of course, this means the game will not get released any time soon. On the contrary, development will take quite a bit longer than we had anticipated. But that’s just how it is and I think overall, the decision may be for the better. With the Unreal Engine, they are no longer dependent on the Hero Cloud services. You can read more about their anticipated advantages of porting in the original article. For me, the most interesting bit is the “improved harvesting system”. Although they also said something about “graphical upgrades” and “eye candy”. I already thought the game was very pretty (see screenshot above), so I am very curious to see the what exactly will look better or different, at least.

Back in November when the problems first emerged, they started working on “Fragmented“, an online 1st person/3rd person shooter with RPG elements, as they now announced. I am not a huge fan of the shooter genre. There are two main reasons for this: for my personal taste, some of them focus too much on violence and on showing that violence (I highly praise Team Fortress 2 with its rubber duckies instead of blood, for example) and then there is my really bad motion sickness for anything with 1st person view. So, being able to play with 3rd person view is great news! The camera is still very close to the character, so I probably won’t be able to play it excessively. Not a bad thing either, though. ;) Healthy amounts of gaming time is much better for me anyway. However, this is a side project to help fund The Repopulation, to give us something to play while we wait and both games will share assets. Additionally, those of us who already own The Repopulation will get Fragmented for free!

“Players are expected to create their own goals in game though. This could include raising a stable of pets, building cities, killing, crafting, or competing with other humans for domination of the new planet.”

This is the part that really got me interested! Fragmented will not be about killing and violence and nothing else.  Instead, I can also help build a city or focus on crafting and pets. So far, I am not really sure how exactly this will work, but I guess I will see soon enough!

Altogether, I am very positive about what they have announced now and I hope they will succeed. My thumbs are pressed and I hope we will get to see Fragmented very soon (it sounds like parts will be available in February already) and the next alpha version of The Repopulation in a few months (I admit, I have no idea how long development would probably take in this case and how soon is realistic here).

*Follow this link to read what had happened and what had forced the developers to pause the current development. Massively also tried to summarize the situation back at that point.

First Impressions Review: Gremlins Inc.

(Update: They have added the “save last session” feature with their update on January 22, 2016)

Steam’s Winter Sale just finished and throughout it, you could gain Steam trading cards for looking at the “Explore” queue of the store. I like getting those cards to sell them. Hey, even a couple of cents are nice to have! Most of the time, I clicked through, not being interested in the games (“recommended because the game is on sale” – Oookay? – “Recommended, because this game is popular!” – So what?). But one game caught my attention. I admit, it was mostly because of the face of a gremlin. :p I added Gremlins Inc. to my wishlist, then forgot about it again until the last day of the sale. I then looked at a few videos and decided that I want this game. It’s still in Early Access and was 10 % off, which is a good deal in my opinion. I mean, it’s on sale and not even released yet!

I had also looked at the Steam reviews before buying the game. One negative review said that the game lacked strategy. So far, I think that’s not true at all. Of course, it’s not strategy like the Civilization games, but it’s exactly as you would play a board game. When I tried to get into the game and wandered aimlessly, I lost. As soon as I started to understand more and tried to follow a certain goal, I won a match! Maybe “tactical” would be a better term. There is also lots of luck involved and some cunning, as you can try to hinder the other players and be annoying to them.

(Update, January 22 2016: This paragraph does not apply anymore. They added the auto-save feature for the latest single-player game with today’s update!)  The (for me!) one big negative part about the game first, before I continue: It does not currently have the option to save a game. As games can last quite some time (e.g., about two hours), this, of course, is a problem. The developers said on the forums that it’s tricky or difficult to implement, but it is on their roadmap. I remember the developers of “Folk Tale” saying the same. Over time, the save feature got implemented and was buggy, while still being very limited (only one save game at a time). By now, it works as you would expect with several slots to save several games and no bugs left. So I assume (and hope ^^) that it will be like this here as well. Other than that, all basic features are in the game and I did not experience any bugs. The tutorial will be implemented later on. The text boxes explaining the game are doing an okay-enough job currently to get you started. I jumped into my first match after the short tutorial (only against AI, not against other players) and felt lost, until I saw that there are more text boxes popping up whenever something happened that needed an explanation. So, even without a “proper” tutorial campaign, the game does manage to explain its features to you.

Gremlins Inc.

As I said, it’s a board game. You play as a gremlin. As far as I could see, you cannot choose an avatar, unfortunately. Not that it matters. It’s just your player’s icon. Still, it would be nice. So, you’re a gremlin and the others (up to 5 players or AI) are gremlins as well. You can choose different victory conditions (e.g., get 20 or 30 “gears”, play a certain amount of rounds or a certain amount of time and the player with the most gears wins the game). The game itself consists of one board with several paths between “main buildings” like the dump or the casino. Every field of the path and the main buildings have a certain “feature” (e.g., paying your taxes or receiving income). Some of those get activated as soon as you pass that field, others are only activated when you step onto it and end your move there.

Gremlins Inc. The Casino

Your main goal is to get as many gears as you can (or as are needed for the victory). You have 6 cards and whenever you use one, you get a new one. The deck will be reshuffled once all cards were used by the players. Here’s the twist with the cards: You can either use them when standing on the board game fields (the lower left icon indicates which field you can use them on) or you use them for moving around the board (the upper left dice shows you the amount of fields you can move). I have often found myself out of options (well, good options anyway), because I wanted to save cards to exchange them for gears or other nice rewards, but at the same time, I was left with no good options to move around on the board. For example, passing a red field marked as “misfortune” will give you said “misfortune” which is a card (from a different deck than the regular 6 cards you have). It will always have negative consequences. Sometimes only for you, sometimes for all players. Stepping and ending your move on that field will let one random other player choose between two Misfortune cards. So, you can safely assume that out of those two, you will get the worse one. :p

Gremlins Inc Misfortunes

And with that, I already introduced you to the “annoy the players” part. The board itself already does a quite good job at it. For most cards that can give you gears, you will also need to spend a certain amount of money in order to play them on the appropriate fields. At the same time, the game’s fields and the “misfortunes” that happen along the way can cause you to lose quite a lot of money. I mentioned “rewards” for cards above. You don’t always get gears when you land on a special field and own a card for it. Sometimes, you also get a reward (e.g., money, votes which come in handy when the election for governor is happening, or other features) – or you get something mean to play on the other players! I think it is comparable to “Mensch ärgere dich nicht“, but with much better graphics. :p I regularly get send to jail by the other players, for example. In there, you roll a die to determine how long you’re going to stay there. It’s not like in Monopoly, where you can’t do much. In Gremlins Inc., you get to decide whether your behaviour will be good, neutral or bad. You also “level up” in jail by serving time in there and there is also a deck of cards which will give you certain events. You get one card per turn. For example, “get out of jail immediately” or “escape from jail”, but also “pay the bribe to get one less turn of jail time”. Some events are for good behaviour, some are for bad behaviour. If you chose neutral, you will get a card from either of those two. You can choose your behaviour at the start of each turn that you are in jail.

Gremlins_Inc Neutral Jail Event

I have not yet played against humans. I admit, I like the atmosphere much better if the enemies are computer-controlled. :p There are apparently ladders/rankings and even tournaments planned or going on. Additionally, something I really love: You cannot directly chat with the other players. You can send emotes and pre-made messages like “Oops!” or “Be right back!”. I’ve seen this in Hearthstone already and I think it worked well. Much less to worry about when it comes to harassment.

After the sales discount and the money I got for selling the trading cards, I spent 7,29 € on the game. It currently costs 9,99 € on Steam (GOG will come later, I think). Is the game worth the full price? It depends (yes, that’s always my answer… :p). Watch one or two matches on YouTube or so, and if you like what you see and if you think you can be happy even if the game never gets a save option, then I think yes, it’s definitely worth it. Otherwise, wait for a sale or wait for them to implement the save function first.

GOG Piñata – Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure

GOG is currently having its “piñata sale” where you pay $3 (2,74 €) where you have no idea what kind of game you’re getting. They promise it will be anything worth between $9.99 – $44.99. You know how I am not much of a risk-taker, right? But somehow, curiosity got the better of me and I bought one. Of course, not without adding, removing, adding, removing the piñata several times before I chose to buy it. :p Bookahnerk did the same, by the way, without buying a game (yet?).

Anyway, what I got is “Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure“. I never heard that name before, even though Tex Murphy has been around since 1989. Point & click kind of games are not my favourite genre, but I do appreciate them once in a while! And when I saw a game description with the word “noir” in it, I was sold. Or rather, just incredibly glad that I probably did not just waste those 2,74 €. I really loved playing “LA Noire” especially because of the atmosphere in the game and the whole “go investigate something” plots.

Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure

Since I’ve only bought the game a couple of hours ago, I have not had the time to dig into it much yet. But what I’ve heard about the game and what I’ve seen in the game so far looks really good! The only downside is that it’s 1st person view. Not a fast variant, so I can play it for a bit, but I will have to be careful and not play too much in one single gaming session. Other than that, I should be fine. And gaming sessions should never be too long without a break anyway, right?

There is also a Reddit thread with people listing what games they got in their piñatas. From those I have seen, I think I got the one that interested me the most and this is what I like about promotions like these. It’s not too expensive, so I can do it once with no issues, and I may end up finding a game I wouldn’t have ever considered getting otherwise!